There have been many great teacher-student relationships in cinematic lore. The most famous may have been Pat Morita teaching Ralph Macchio the crane kick in The Karate Kid, but one of the more interesting ones lately has been Walt (Clint Eastwood) teaching Hmong teenager Thao (Bee Vang) the ways of manliness and construction in Gran Torino.
Walt is a racist Korean War vet and the last remaining resident of the “Old Guard” of residents in his Detroit neighborhood. Whereas the rest of his neighbors of many years either died or moved out, Walt maintains the same residence he bought as a young man. When we meet Walt hes in mourning over the death of his wife, leaving him alone with his dog Daisy and the persistence of his wifes priest (Christopher Carley). And then he unwittingly embraces the Hmong community around him, including Thao and his sister Sue (Ahney Her).
The film, overlooked for the major awards, is perhaps Clint Eastwoods last time in front of the camera and perhaps his best performance as an actor. Eastwood the actor has not been directed by anyone besides Eastwood the director in well over a decade and perhaps it’s for good reason. An old curmudgeon like Walt isnt far removed from Eastwoods personality outside the screen and its hard to imagine any other director getting this sort of performance from Eastwood. Hes at the point in his career where hes proven everything he ever had to. Gran Torino is a finishing statement on his career, if it proves to be his last film in front of the camera. He has created many variations of the hero, from the western to the dirty streets of San Francisco, and this is perhaps his final thought on the hero. Its easy to imagine that Walt in his late 70s wouldnt be that different from Harry Callahan at the same age. This is Eastwoods statement on the finality of the hero; in the end, its about what we leave behind that ends up being our greatest statement.
And if Gran Torino is the last thing Eastwood the director does, its a good note to go out on as well. Eastwood the director takes the films essence and boils it down to the bare necessities. This is a film that is sleek and moves quickly despite running nearly two hours; its a brisk running time and there is no wasted energy. Eastwood fills his screen with a relatively simple story involving a teacher/student allegory
Presented in a Dolby Digital format, with a widescreen presentation, the film looks and sounds great. This was a low budget film but the transfer brings out Detroit, MI, in spectacular fashion.
Manning the Wheel is about cars and the deeper meaning behind the Gran Torino in the film. Its interesting to hear the cast and crew talk about cars and the process it took to find the 1972 Gran Torino that was featured in the film; this isnt a car film, of course, but its a film involving a car and the main purpose of this 10 minute feature is to give you a bit of an insight into why people get so involved with their cars.
Gran Torino: More than a Car is a quick four minute feature on the love affair with cars, presented in the Woodward Dream Cruise (a once a year car gathering along the route that Detroit suburbanites would ride 40-50 years ago).
And theres a coupon for a Digital Copy for those who want Gran Torino on the go.
The biggest hit of his career, Gran Torino may have been Clint Eastwoods last hurrah as an actor. If it is, its a wonderful way to go out.
Wanrer Brothers presents Gran Torino. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Clint Eastwood, Ahney Her, Sonny Vue, Doua Moua, Christopher Carley. Written by . Running time: 116 minutes . Rated R . Released on DVD June 9, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino